Once Again, Reporters Have No Time for Balance
SAVE THE PLANET, SLANT THE NEWS
This month's U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro has become the latest excuse for reporters to abandon balance in
favor of "saving the planet." Not only were free-market
environmentalists and skeptical scientists ignored, so were any
arguments that might make the U.N.'s proposed treaties seem less
necessary. On May 8, ABC reporter Ned Potter, using only greenhouse
promoter Michael Oppenheimer as a source, portrayed the U.S. as a
polluting global outlaw: "The United States has been the biggest
producer of greenhouse gases and the toughest holdout against legal
commitments to control them."
The day the summit opened, June 3, CBS
reporter Doug Tunnell editorialized: "Just imagine: the government
of a major industrial country in the North that's responsible for about
one- quarter of all the CO2 emissions in the
world, and whose leader calls himself the Environment President. But
this President forced the U.N. to water down a global clean-air accord,
and refuses to sign another agreement to further protect endangered
species." Other than EPA chief William Reilly mentioning the
"financing mechanism" for six seconds, Tunnell ignored the
contents of both treaties.
Boston Globe reporters Ross
Gelbspan and Dianne Dumanoski tried to panic the Eastern seaboard with a
May 31-June 2 series that began with a newscast from 2030: "Food
riots erupt in Boston... Nature helps avert a water war between New York
and Pennsylvania ...Garbage dumping begins in the Grand Canyon...Red Sox
game smoked out in Chicago [by Saskatchewan prairie fires]...Scenarios
like these are being forecast by more and more scientists. Unless
skyrocketing rates of pollution and population growth are reduced soon,
they warn, many biological systems needed to sustain humans will
collapse within the lifetimes of today's children."
The Globe did devote a small box
to critics. Wrote Gelbspan: "These voices are increasingly in the
minority. And as evidence has accumulated, the tide of the debate has
swung increasingly toward those who believe that the Earth's ability to
withstand untrammeled human activity has reached the breaking
point." Gelbspan quoted greenhouse promoter Stephen Schneider:
"It is journalistically irresponsible to present both sides as if
it were a question of balance...It is irresponsible to give equal time
to a few people standing out in left field." Gelbspan ignored a
Gallup poll of 400 climate experts from the American Meteorological
Society and the American Geophysical Union. While 60 percent agreed
global temperatures rose in the last century, only 19 percent believed
that warming was induced by human activity. Nobody reported that.
Dukakis at the White House.
During an appearance on the May 8 C-SPAN Journalists' Roundtable,
29-year-old Newsweek White House reporter Clara Bingham
reminisced about the Great Society: "It means ancient
history, I'm afraid. It also means something I think about wistfully. I
wish there was an administration now, or even within my adulthood, that
cared so much." A few minutes later, host Brian Lamb offered a clue
to Bingham's reverence for the Democrat by revealing her job during the
last presidential campaign season: Tennessee Communications Director for
Michael Dukakis for President. After joining Newsweek's
Washington bureau in late 1989, in September 1991 she moved to the White
House as the magazine's number two on that beat under Ann McDaniel.
Liberal Journalistic Activism.
On May 16 thousands converged on Washington to demand more taxpayer
money for cities. The Save Our Cities march was the brainchild of
Osborn Elliott, Editor of Newsweek from 1961 to 1976
and Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism from 1979 to 1986. In The
Boston Globe, columnist Tom Oliphant explained: "Last summer,
Elliott brought his idea of a March on Washington to the executive
committee of the U.S. Conference of Mayors....Thanks to another titan of
journalism's activist period (The Globe's retired Editor,
Thomas Winship), Elliott was in touch with this year's conference
President, Mayor Ray Flynn of Boston." During the rally, Elliott
declared: "We hold accountable Republicans who have savaged our
urban schools, our housing, our health care, our social services. We
hold accountable Democrats who have collaborated in this butchery... We
hold accountable those who waste our billions on a military with no
enemy to fight. America, hear our cry."
Campaigning for Richards.
In the just-released book Storming the State House: Running for
Governor with Ann Richards and Dianne Feinstein, author Celia
Morris described a "dog-and-pony show" caravan for Richards.
Among those participating in the September 1990 road trip on behalf of
the successful Democratic Texas candidate was Judith Davidson
Moyers, who runs Public Affairs Television, the company behind
virtually every Bill Moyers show on PBS. Morris wrote that Judith Moyers'
"two-minute spiel" from the loudspeakers of a Winnebago,
"was a classic piece of political persuasion." Currently, she
and her husband hold the title of Co-Executive Editors of the ongoing Listening
to America PBS series. She served as Executive Producer of
January's Minimum Wages special on how jobs created during the
1980s don't pay enough.
Off to Espaņa.
President Bush has nominated Richard Capen, former
Publisher of the Miami Herald, to be U.S. Ambassador to Spain.
After leaving the paper in 1989, Capen became Vice Chairman for business
information and cable television properties for Knight-Ridder, owner of
the Herald. During the Nixon Administration, Capen served as
Assistant Secretary of Defense for legislative affairs.
"PEOPLE BOMB" IMPLODES
On most issues, CNN serves as an example
of balanced television news. But when it comes to the environment, CNN
is a textbook example of advocacy journalism. For its one-sided
month-long series of daily special reports on the eve of the Rio Earth
Summit titled "The People Bomb," CNN earned the June Janet
Ted Turner's environmental journalists
have repeatedly and publicly rejected objectivity in environmental news,
because balance doesn't spur people to action. In the Summer 1990 Gannett
Center Journal, TBS Senior Producer Teya Ryan declared: "The
'balanced' report, in some cases, may no longer be the most effective,
or even the most informative. Indeed, it can be debilitating. Can we
afford to wait for our audience to come to its own conclusions? I think
Like its corporate colleagues at TBS, CNN
ignored the basics of balanced journalism and demonstrated its contempt
for the intellect of its audience. The first (and worst) report in
"The People Bomb" series on the May 4 World News used
only two on-air sources: discredited Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich and
Carl Pope of the Sierra Club.
Anchor Susan Rook began the story:
"Our month-long series on global overpopulation begins with CNN's
Mark Walton's report on responsibility. When it comes to damaging our
world, you may be surprised at who's to blame."
Walton continued: "Picture the
developing world. Too many people on the edge of survival. Fouling the
land, water, air. Compounding a crisis of poverty. It is the very face
of overpopulation. But what about this? It's a middle-class suburb
outside San Francisco called Pleasant Hill. And it really is a nice
place to live: nice houses, nice cars, plenty to eat. The size of an
average household is about 2.4 people. Certainly a place like this has
nothing to do with overpopulation. Or does it?"
The rest of the piece, salted only with
Pope and Ehrlich, theorized that industrialized nations and their
conveniences are much more destructive than the Third World. Ehrlich
explained: "Generally one can say that the birth of a baby in the
United States is on the order of thirty times as big a disaster for
things like global climate change, the ozone layer, acid precipitation,
and so on, as a baby born in a poor family in Nepal, Bangladesh,
Colombia, or whatever."
Even American environmental do-gooders
were condemned. Walton faulted the family they spotlighted in
California: "The Bakers are conscientious waste recyclers, with
special bins for cans, bottles, and newspapers. Still, the very
lifestyle that demands such materials traps them in a cycle of
CNN didn't give viewers the treat of
enunciating Ehrlich's real agenda. In his 1970 book Population,
Resources, Environment, Ehrlich preached: "It has been
concluded that mandatory population control laws, even those requiring
compulsory abortion, could be sustained under our existing Constitution
if the population crisis became sufficiently compelling to endanger the
society. A few consider the situation already serious enough to justify
some forms of compulsion." Ehrlich also urged: "A massive
campaign must be launched to restore a quality environment in North
America and to de-develop the United States."
CNN also failed to tell viewers about
Ehrlich's dreadful record of predicting the future. In 1980, Ehrlich bet
economist Julian Simon that five natural resources of Ehrlich's choosing
would grow more scarce [i.e., expensive] by 1990. Ehrlich lost on all
When asked by MediaWatch
about Simon's absence from the May 4 story, Stacy Jolna, the CNN
producer in charge of the series, pointed out that Simon did appear on
the morning talk show Crier & Co. on May 4. Simon told MediaWatch
a CNN crew interviewed him for two and a half hours, but none of it
appeared in the "People Bomb" series. Jolna knew Simon won the
bet, but stressed that Simon was outnumbered: "The vast,
overwhelming majority of voices in the field of population pretty much
speak to the problems and there are very, very faint voices that think
we ain't got a problem. We clearly have a problem....That all of this
will fix itself at some point in the future is a silly way to
In the April 27 Washington Times,
Simon disagreed: "Even the Environmental Protection Agency
acknowledges that our air and water have been getting cleaner rather
than dirtier in the past few decades. Every agricultural economist knows
that the world's population has been eating ever better since World War
II. Every resource economist knows that all natural resources have been
getting more available rather than more scarce, as shown by their
falling prices over the decades and centuries. And every demographer
knows that the death rate has been falling all over the world -- life
expectancy has almost tripled in the rich countries in the past two
centuries, and almost doubled in the poor countries in the past four
Simon noted that the National Research
Council of the National Academy of Sciences [not a "faint
voice" among scientists] completely reversed its earlier view that
population growth hurts economic development, but "this U-turn by
the scientific consensus of experts on the subject has gone
unacknowledged by the press."
"The People Bomb" placed little
emphasis on actual population trends. As Ben Wattenberg, another expert
excluded from the series, explained: "The keystone demographic
datum is the 'Total Fertility Rate' (TFR). That represents the number of
children a woman will bear in her fertile years." In modern
countries, Wattenberg continued, a TFR of 2.1 yields a stable,
non-growing population. "In 1960-65, according to UN data, the
global TFR was 5.0. In 1990, according to the new Population Reference
Bureau's 'Population Data Sheet,' the rate was 3.3 -- a 34 percent
decrease in slightly more than one generation." Wattenberg also
noted that the "less developed countries" reduced their TFR
over the last 25 years a substantial 62 percent of the way down toward
their replacement rate of 2.4.
Instead of addressing the statistical
record, CNN focused on the role of Third World economies and cultures in
population growth, citing, for example, the negative role of the
Catholic Church in causing overpopulation. CNN lovingly promoted
international birth control distribution. Throughout, CNN presented a
grim picture of Earth's future while avoiding the inconvenience of
But CNN's Jolna called the series "a
comprehensive, objective look...at global overpopulation." To Jolna,
objectivity doesn't require presenting both sides: "If you've got
99 voices saying yes, we've got a problem, and it's a big problem, and
you have one voice saying this is not a problem, how much weight do you
give to that in terms of objective journalism? I don't think it's
objective to take one out of 100 and put him up against one who
represents the other 99, and say this is a balanced and fair report. I
think you've got to go with the 99 percent, as we do as good
journalists, and say this is what the overriding opinions are regarding
this issue." In presenting only one side, and dismissing experts
like Wattenberg and Simon, CNN isn't serving the public. If dramatic
scenarios of gloom require drastic political action, reporters have to
trust the people to make logical decisions, even after hearing both
sides. Doing anything less says: the public be damned.
The May 25 Forbes listed Dan Rather as one of corporate
America's most powerful people, paid $3.6 million a year. Forbes
sounded an ironic note: "In his 1977 autobiography, The Camera
Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist, Dan Rather criticized
Barbara Walters' million-dollar-a-year salary as co-anchor of the ABC
evening news and commented: 'In my own view, no one in this business is
[worth a million], no matter what or how many shows they do, unless they
find a cure for cancer on the side.'" Since Rather has yet to find
a cure for cancer, Forbes rang true in their final assessment:
"As a winner in the genetic lottery, Rather seems to have changed
his mind about how high the rewards ought to be." Guess who enjoyed
the "decade of greed"?
MIKHAIL'S MONEY. Compare
NBC's coverage of Mikhail Gorbachev's money-making trip to the United
States to their reports on Ronald Reagan's money-making trip to Japan
two years earlier.
During his May 16 Nightly News
"Final Thoughts" commentary, Garrick Utley heaped praise on
Gorbachev. The anchor mused: "Whatever Gorbachev can get he
certainly deserves....Here is a man who not only changed history, but
he's going to save us a lot of money....The Bush Administration plans to
cut defense spending $50 billion dollars over the next five years.
Mikhail Gorbachev is the man who made that possible. So how much should
a grateful American nation offer him in reward? In show business and
sports, an agent's fee is 10 percent. That would mean $5 billion for
Gorbachev. A bit high, you say? Okay, let's make it 1 percent, or even
1/10 of 1 percent. That would still be $50 million...Let's not be
cynical, or begrudge him the measly couple of million dollars he takes
with him. Those who gave it can afford it. It's the least America can
Now read what NBC commentator John
Chancellor said about Reagan on the March 15, 1990 Nightly News:
"Ask most Americans about Ronald Reagan's recent activities and
they will tell you about the couple of million dollars he picked up for
a quick trip to Japan...The Reagans' career after the White House has
been characterized by big bucks...The country's mood has changed. The
1980s were noted for greed and avarice, but now we're in the 1990s and
the waiter has arrived with the check."
RAINING ON PARADE.
On May 14, CNN's Jonathan Mann reported on Parade magazine's
survey on abortion, but only the results favoring abortion were
mentioned. "A national magazine says people in the U.S. are
overwhelmingly in favor of keeping abortion legal. Almost three-fourths
of those polled by Parade magazine say abortion should remain
legal. More than three- fourths of the respondents say outlawing
abortions will not stop women from getting them."
CNN failed to note that Parade
also found overwhelming public support for two "restrictions"
in the Pennsylvania law currently before the Supreme Court. Parade
reported 76 percent of the respondents said they believe husbands should
be informed before their wives have an abortion; and "80 percent
said that, when the woman is under 18, one or both parents should be
notified before an abortion is performed."
FRYING THE FAT YEARS. Wall
Street Journal editorial page editor Robert L. Bartley's new book
about the economic prosperity of the 1980s, The Seven Fat Years,
gave Time and Newsweek the opportunity to deny the
obvious -- the Reagan years were a time of enormous economic growth.
Newsweek economics reporter Marc
Levinson began his May 4 review: "The decade of Ronald Reagan's
presidency is already receding into history as the second Gilded Age --
a time when, amid prosperity, many Americans became worse off."
Levinson later offered this laughable assertion: "On average, the
economy grew as fast under Jimmy Carter as under Ronald Reagan."
Growth is easy with double-digit inflation, but that doesn't translate
into prosperity. The most important things that grew during the Carter
malaise years were lines at gas stations and unemployment offices.
In the May 24 issue of Time,
Senior Writer John Greenwald complained that the book "glosses over
the excesses and inequalities of the Reagan era." Spurning the
supply-side recovery, he trotted out a very tired myth: "The rising
tide of '80s style growth failed to lift all boats as advertised: the
rich got bigger yachts, the middle class foundered, and many of the poor
went under." In reality, all income groups saw their average family
income grow during the 1980s.
SAVAGE SUPREME COURT. Los
Angeles Times Supreme Court reporter David Savage won last
November's Janet Cooke Award for his one- sided attack on Chief Justice
William Rehnquist. Now, the attack has been lengthened into a book. In Turning
Right, he serves up sugary praise for the liberals of the court.
Thurgood Marshall "was, in the view of many law experts, the
greatest American lawyer of the twentieth century." William Brennan
was "one of the truly great justices of the twentieth
century." And the author of Roe v. Wade, Harry Blackmun,
"lived up to his pledge to be a protector of the little people
whose cases came before the Court." Savage failed to note that
unborn children miss Blackmun's "little people" category by a
As he regularly does in the Los
Angeles Times, Savage suggested that conservative justices are
against individual rights, and liberals fight off government power.
While liberal justices have helped the federal government dramatically
increase its control over people's property and economic
decision-making, Savage warned: "Under the edicts of the Rehnquist
Court, the Bill of Rights is shrinking in significance. The new court
has seen its first duty as upholding the will of the majority and the
rules of government, not the constitutional rights of individuals...How
far will the court go in rolling back constitutional rights?"
GERGEN MISLABELED. David
Gergen once served as President Reagan's Communications Director. Now,
the U.S. News & World Report Editor -at-Large and MacNeil-Lehrer
NewsHour pundit is considered a "conservative." Think
again. In the "America and the World 1991/92" issue of Foreign
Affairs, all Gergen managed was tired liberal-media cliches. Gergen
lashed out at Bush's energy policies, blaming Bush, not Saddam, for the
Gulf War: "If the United States has a serious energy policy in
place it would not be so threatened." Gergen wrote that Bush could
"have convinced both the public and his own party that the country
needed a sizeable increase in gasoline taxes in order to become more
independent of foreign energy sources."
Turning to presidential politics, Gergen
lumped candidate Pat Buchanan together with ex-Klan Wizard David Duke,
warning: "Neither man will defeat the President, but they will give
greater legitimacy to fears and prejudices seething below the
surface." The only way to save America from a racist, isolationist
future is more social spending: "Unless the nation embarks upon a
comprehensive program of domestic renewal, the United States within a
few years could become so deeply mired in its own troubles that its
politics will turn even more embittered, xenophobic, and inward."
GORE'S GREEN GUIDE. Time
Senior Writer Lance Morrow's May 14 review of Senator Al Gore's new
book, Earth in the Balance, offered another example of how
facts don't matter to Time when it comes to the environment. Morrow
claimed "the book speaks with a certain passionate authenticity, a
ring of the unfakable that is rare enough in the (usually ghostwritten)
outpouring of politicians." Furthermore, the public "may be
impressed by Gore's sustained intellectual concentration and mastery of
his subject, the environment. Gore has studied it a while...Gore has
produced a labor of statesmanship, evangelism, and scientific
Others would argue Gore went 0 for 3,
chiefly producing a political tract that was thoroughly denounced by
many in the scientific community. In one of several examples cited by
Professor Julian Simon in a Washington Times review, Gore
claimed that DDT "can be environmentally dangerous in tiny
amounts." Simon noted that use of DDT in India resulted in the near
elimination of malaria.
Similarly, Simon found that "Gore
seems unaware that the solid scientific consensus is that there was no
observable damage to humans living near Love Canal." Simon
concluded: "The entire book is filled with this sort of
environmental gossip, backed by no sources, and contradicted by solid
data....He has been told in the past that his utterances on these
subjects do not correspond with the facts. But he has chosen to ignore
the scientific literature."
WHITE ON BLACKS. Time
"Nation" Section Editor Jack White's May 11 report, "The
Limits of Black Power," suggested that black leaders aren't truly
"black" unless they're radical blacks, devoted to their race
above all else. White suggested Justice Clarence Thomas isn't really
black after ruling against a black official in Alabama in a voting
rights case, Presley vs. Etowah County Commission: "No brother,
no matter how right wing, they felt, could acquiesce in such a
ruling." [Italics his.] Thomas simply ruled that current
"voting rights" laws apply to voting, not the distribution of
government powers, however unfair. To White, the race of the plaintiff
mattered more than the actual text of the law, or the power of
White even huffed that liberal Democratic
black leaders aren't radical enough. Take White's backhand at Atlanta
Mayor Maynard Jackson: "Although his gospel-tinged oratory about
the power of politics to uplift the poor remains as dynamic as ever,
some of Jackson's strongest supporters complain that his priorities have
changed and that he has become a tool of white business interests."
HORTON FOOLS COME TRUE.
Every year the MediaWatch companion
newsletter, Notable Quotables, publishes an
April Fools issue, an effort to parody reporters by inventing the most
outrageous quotes possible. In this year's April 1 edition, we made up
the following Meet the Press question from NBC's Andrea
Mitchell to Rep. Newt Gingrich: "Republicans say they will use the
House Bank scandal as a wedge issue in November, hoping it will cause
huge turnovers in Congress. Isn't this just Willie Horton with a
A month later our quote came true. On the
May 10 Meet the Press, Andrea Mitchell asked Senator Bill
Bradley: "Senator, you told Tim that you thought the White House
suggestion that the Great Society programs were to blame for what
happened in Los Angeles was ludicrous. Was it also a racial code word --
a code word to appeal to racial fears? Is it the Willie Horton of the
ABC'S SALINGER RESPONDS.
After Prime Minister John Major's Conservative Party won a decisive
majority in Britain's early April election, Notable
Quotables ran some of the media's incorrect predictions.
Among them, this from ABC Chief Foreign Correspondent Pierre Salinger on
World News Tonight April 9, the day of the election:
"Major and the Conservatives seem to
have failed to win a majority after 13 years because of the voter's
perception that they did little to pull Britain out of the recession.
Conservatives were heavily criticized for failing to invest enough funds
in the national health service and the educational system. But voters
were equally concerned about the large tax increase the Labor Party
proposed with a top rate of 59 percent to fund those programs. If
current trends hold up and the Conservatives run about 25 to 30 seats
short, observers believe Prime Minister Major will resign tomorrow,
leaving it up to Labor to form a government."
Responding from London, Salinger wrote:
"I want to tell you you were right but you must also understand the
conditions under which this broadcast was made. The polls close at 10:00
pm London time and I have to have a piece ready for World News
Tonight by 11:00 pm. All the polls published at this period on BBC
and ITN indicated what I said. It was not until 2 or 3 o'clock in the
morning that the situation turned around and it started to appear that
the Conservatives might win. So while I accept the broadcast was a
mistake, I don't really have full responsibility."
Additional Attacks on
the Human Race
MORE CNN SERMONS
Other CNN reports also bemoaned man's
destruction of the planet. "Agenda Earth" featured essay-style
segments from reporter Larry Woods: "'The earth does not argue,'
observed Walt Whitman, 'does not scream.' Maybe it should. Especially
the way we gorge the countryside with garbage. Society's use-and-toss
mentality poses nagging problems." Woods also preached that
"Man's vilification of the Earth has indeed marched down to the sea
and beyond," and asked: "Can humanity confront its damaging
handiwork while there's still time?"
"Hole in the Sky" took on ozone
depletion. On May 26, CNN anchor Bernard Shaw again singled out the
human race as a cancer on the planet: "This is a story about human
folly. Mankind's attempt to engineer a better place to live, to improve
upon nature with inventions such as refrigeration, foam packing, and
electronics. But the man-made chemicals used in pursuit of the good life
have put all life on earth in jeopardy. The chemicals have punched a
hole in the sky." Shaw concluded: "Already, there's a moral to
the story, and that is nature may not always be able to recover from the
abuses of modern civilization."
Hume vs. Houston Post
Vice President Dan Quayle's passing
reference to Murphy Brown in a late May speech drew quick
criticism from many reporters. On the May 22 Washington Week in
Review, U.S. News & World Report Senior Writer Steven
Roberts called Quayle's speech "a very deliberate attempt to use
these family values...as a wedge issue to drive divisions in this
country along cultural lines, along social lines, and to some extent
along racial lines."
But ABC White House correspondent Brit
Hume told one reporter where to put it. On C-SPAN's June 5 Journalists'
Roundtable, Hume criticized the Code Word Brigade, declaring:
"I just think that the idea that the values issue is a code word is
really an appalling commentary on how we've come to think in the
media." Houston Post Washington Bureau Chief Kathy Kiely
countered: "I do think values are a code word...they are a code
word saying I want to exclude certain people. I think they're a code
word for saying I'm against including homosexuals in government, I'm
against maybe including women in certain positions."
Hume shot back: "But there is no
evidence that that's what this President, who has campaigned hard on
values is for or has done." Kiely responded: "Well, I'm not
saying he's for that, but maybe's he's appealing to some people who are
for that." Hume asked: "You're a reporter. Your job is to get
at the facts. On what do you base that, other than guesswork?"
Later, Kiely continued: "There's a
lot of racism that's dressed up to look like something different and I
think it's our job to strip that clothing off and say what it is."
Hume concluded: "I think that's true, but I think you have to
actually do it, not just guess at it."
Study Finds Liberal
By law, the corporation for Public
Broadcasting (CPB) is required to insure balance in all
"programming of a controversial nature," but CPB refused to
undergo a study of its content. A study released by the Center for Media
and Public Affairs (CMPA) shows why: there is no balance on PBS.
CMPA studied every documentary on
Washington PBS affiliate WETA from April 1987 to March 1988, and found a
pronounced liberal slant. For example, 4 of 6 sources opposed America's
participation in a nuclear arms race; 3 out of 5 sources argued that the
environment must be protected before human needs; racial discrimination
was described as a condition of American society 50 times without one
dissenting opinion; 92 percent of sources on gender relations said
society discriminates against women.
On health issues, 8 out of 9 sources gave
the medical profession a vote of no confidence, arguing that medicine
places its own interests above patient care. While the Cold War raged
on, friends and allies of the U.S. were criticized more than four times
as often as enemies or unfriendly nations. No wonder CPB wants no
When Senate Republicans asked for a
debate on CPB funding, PBS-loving TV critics went wild. On May 21, Washington
Post critic Tom Shales decried "the new coalitions of
right-wingers joined together to wage an insane war against public
television." He also called it a "virulent campaign" and
a "perverse conspiracy." On May 12, Boston Globe
critic Ed Siegel wrote that the Senate "could use someone like
Joseph Welch to turn to PBS' current critics and repeat his answer to
Joseph McCarthy's charges: 'Have you no shame'?"
On May 4, Bush spokesman Marlin Fitzwater
declared "We believe that many of the root problems that have
resulted in inner-city difficulties were started in the '60s and '70s,
and they [social programs] failed." Fitzwater's remarks drew a
quick response from liberals. Did the media give equal weight to both
To determine the tone and tilt of the
networks' reaction, Media-Watch analysts
watched every evening news story in May (from ABC's World News
Tonight, CBS Evening News, CNN's World News, and
NBC Nightly News) on the impact on federal social programs. In
29 news stories, defenders of Great Society programs and advocates for
more federal spending outnumbered critics, 79 to 22, or roughly four to
one. Thirteen stories aired pro-Great Society sources with zero critics.
CBS had the worst soundbite imbalance,
33-8 (or 80 percent pro-government), followed by ABC (13-3, or 80
percent), NBC (14-4, or 77 percent), and CNN (19-7, or 73 percent). ABC
had the most stories that aired liberals with no critics -- five. CBS
aired three, and CNN and NBC aired two.
Only three ABC stories featured critics,
and they were all President Bush, in two Brit Hume stories and one by
Tom Foreman. On May 3, Foreman introduced Bush by declaring: "Some
say the President has not recognized any social motive for the
violence." Foreman ended by making the riots sound like a Clinton
rally: "Increasingly, people are saying that all of the violence
had very little to do with Rodney King. Instead, it was the desperate
call of a community fighting for change."
BUDGET CUTS? ABC's most
fervent defense of the Great Society came on May 4, with a trio of Great
Society promotions. Peter Jennings declared: "It won't be easy for
the Democrats to argue that it's simply a matter of spending the right
amount of money." Then all three reporters said exactly that,
despairing over supposed budget cuts without questioning the efficiency
of past programs. Rebecca Chase, George Strait, and Bill Blaemore all
claimed that Reagan budget cuts worsened the inner cities. Some claims
were wrong: Strait bemoaned cuts in federal immunization spending, which
increased from $32 million in 1980 to $186 million in 1990.
Some claims were simply recycled press
release statistics from liberal interest groups. Take Rebecca Chase:
"While the numbers on welfare increased, the value of the
assistance fell by more than 30 percent. During the same time, other
federal spending in the cities also dropped. Subsidized housing fell 82
percent. Job training, 63 percent. And programs to develop new business,
down 40 percent." These numbers, straight from the liberal Center
for Budget and Policy Priorities (also cited by Jack Smith on ABC's This
Week), don't address which programs were cut, and why.
Had ABC done its own analysis instead of
taking the easy, imbalanced way out, it may have even found that some of
these programs have grown by 20 or 30 percent just in the last three
years. Budget expert Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute contends that
funding for public housing increased from $12.5 billion in 1989 to $15
billion in 1992, and that job training funds increased from $17.7
billion in 1989 to $23.2 billion in 1992.
Addressing the issues one at a time
reveals that the government recognized failure in these programs and
tried to remake them. ABC's borrowed numbers don't explain that in the
1980s, Republicans and Democrats alike moved from massive construction
of public housing (which aided developers, not the poor) to direct
housing assistance to the poor for already existing housing. Under Bush,
rent certificate and voucher spending has skyrocketed 42 percent. The
Comprehensive Education and Training Act, or CETA, was found ineffective
and phased out by both parties and replaced with the Job Training
But reporters stepped up to defend the
whole menu of programs, effective or not. From Los Angeles on May 12,
ABC reporter Beth Nissen mourned the CETA program: "Their bishop
says many of those here who sarted out in poverty made it out because of
federal anti-poverty programs that flourished in the 1960s." Nissen
concluded: "Some of the federal anti-poverty programs were all
their critics say -- expensive, troubled, mismanaged, even corrupt. But
those who were helped out of poverty say those programs at least showed
that the federal government cared. Those still in poverty, they say, are
no longer sure who cares."
On May 22, anchor Connie Chung declared
CBS would explore only one side: "This year, in the wake of the
L.A. riots, the Bush Administration attacked these programs as failures.
Tonight, people with a different perspective on Eye on America."
Reporter Bob McNamara wistfully looked back: "A generation since
America waged war on poverty, and dreamed of a Great Society."
Promoting the impression that most of the Great Society was gone,
McNamara asserted: "Twenty-five years later, although the programs
are long gone, for many people, the Great Society is still making a
difference." ABC's Tom Foreman had issued the same false statement
a couple of weeks earlier: "In recent years as federal funding for
social services has fallen, many have disappeared. Gone are programs for
job training, health care, child care, and housing." McNamara and
Foreman never specified which programs they were talking about.
THE MAYORS' MARCH. On
May 16, the U.S. Conference of Mayors organized a "Save Our
Cities" march. Liberal activists were given an uncontested forum,
17 to 0. All three broadcast networks used the same handout statistics.
NBC's Henry Champ declared: "According to a Senate committee,
federal money to the cities has been rapidly declining. In 1981,
Washington gave $37 billion to urban projects. In 1993, the total will
be $13 billion. Key programs, those aiding poor families and helping
fight crime, drugs, and unemployment, have all suffered cutbacks."
None of the networks explained which
programs were included in the numbers. A study by the National League of
Cities (NLC), a lobbyist for more federal aid to the cities, claimed aid
dropped from $47 billion in 1980 to $21 billion in 1992, a nearly 60
percent reduction. Some reporters used the 60 percent number, but they
did not explain the programs the NLC selected. The NLC picked a number
of programs that were defunded or decreased because both parties found
them ineffective: revenue sharing, the Economic Development
Administration, and Urban Development Action Grants (UDAG). UDAG was
discontinued because it funded, among other things, the building of
OMITTED ARGUMENTS. If
the networks had consulted Heritage Foundation expert Carl Horowitz
instead of shilling for the mayors, he could have explained a different
reality: federal aid to states and cities increased from $95 billion in
1981 to $152 billion in 1991. They failed to point out that Census
Bureau figures show total municipal spending went up 26.3 percent in the
1980s in constant 1989 dollars.
The networks also left out an even more
important statistic: public employee pay grew dramatically in the 1980s.
In a study for the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council,
Wendell Cox discovered that average public sector pay rose four times as
fast as private sector pay, and that public employees now earn on
average 10 percent more than their private counterparts. Municipal
government employees received an estimated $5.05 for each $1 increase
for private sector employees. Public employee pay is especially
important since personnel makes up 60 percent of state and local
operating expenditures. Reporters presented the mayors' march as a plea
for the poor, and not a plea for higher pay for city bureaucrats.
Instead of detailed analysis of federal
aid, reporters settled for quick and easy cheap shots. While overall
spending on the poor increased in the 1980s in real terms, reporters,
like NBC's Lisa Myers on May 7, simply pulled out the long knives:
"It is often said that Ronald Reagan's big budget cuts declared war
on the poor. The most that can be said of Georg Bush is that he declared
a cease-fire." Reporters may never declare a cease-fire in their
war against the Reagan years.
Home | News Division
| Bozell Columns | CyberAlerts
Media Reality Check | Notable Quotables | Contact
the MRC | Subscribe